15 hp Foos Engine Put Back Together

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Mike Cartwright's 15 hp Foos gas engine. The 270 RPM engine, built in 1903, made its first public appearance late last month at an Oklahoma show.
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Mike's "basket case," as it was when he purchased it about four years ago. 
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Mike (at right) and a friend, Glen Whitworth, fine-tuning the engine. The engine has been restored to its original dark green color. All of the wipe spark is brass; the counterweights are black.

When you see Mike Cartwright’s 15 hp Foos engine Type S (with wipe spark ignition) on the show circuit, it may be hard to figure why he affectionately refers to the mammoth engine as his “basket case.” But if you’d seen it when he first got his hands on it, you’d understand.

“It was just in pieces on a trailer,” he said. “Every piece, every bolt had been taken off.”

The engine, which Mike said hadn’t been run in at least 60 years, had been completely disassembled decades ago near Oklahoma City. Manufactured in 1903 in Springfield, Ohio, the Foos engine once powered a cotton gin. It showed signs of having been through a fire.

Restoration was no small undertaking.

“The cylinder was cracked, and had to be bored and sleeved,” Mike said. “Jerry Abplanalp in Wichita did that work. Glen Whitworth (a friend with a home workshop in Tulsa) helped me a lot. One of the counterweights on the crankshaft was busted, so he machined two rings to put over the counterweights. They had to be heated and pressed on – that’s the kind of tolerance it had to have. And then we had to use a forklift to lift the crankshaft up on the lathe.”

And that was just the beginning.

“Three-quarters of the governor was missing, so Glen made those parts. He made an arm for the wipe spark, and made all the valves for the intake and exhaust cages. He also made a new valve stem and knob for the fuel mixer, and made a new part for the fuel mixer itself.”

Some of the restoration targeted flaws that were in the engine from the beginning.

“We also had to make a pin to go through the flywheel into the spoke,” Mike said. “There was a stress crack in the spoke – it was probably there when the engine was new. When they poured the original flywheel, it was probably cooled too quickly. So we had to make a 12-inch pin with threads.”

On this engine, of course, everything is big. The Foos engine has a 54-inch flywheel, an eight-inch piston and a 14-inch stroke. The 12-inch I beams it sits on are 10 feet long. The four-foot-tall cooling tank measures 22 inches by 24 inches. The whole package is estimated to weigh 3,500 pounds.

“We had to use a winch truck to lift the flywheel to get it aligned to the end of the crankshaft,” he said.

After six months of restoration, the engine was finally ready to run early this fall.

“It’s all complete now, and running,” Mike said. “Oh, we had to adjust the springs on the governor –we needed a lighter spring to adjust the air fuel mixture. And we still need to rework the compression relief valve. Right now, it takes three people to start it, and I want to be able to do it myself.”

The restored engine joins a packed house in a 20×30 building in Mike’s backyard.

“I’ve got 26 gas engines all together,” he said, “including seven Foos engines. (The 15 hp is the biggest in his Foos collection.) I also have a 7 hp Foos wipe spark on a portable (horse-drawn) cart. That cart is all original and unrestored. It needs to be restored, but I hate to do it. And I have an 8 hp Domestic sideshaft, and then all the little engines.”

Expansion is in the plans.

“We’re talking about expanding the building,” he said. “I hope to add another 30 feet.”

That would just about make room for another, uh, large engine.

“The largest single cylinder Foos I’ve seen is a 40 hp,” Mike said. “I’d like to have a 40 hp, but I probably never will. I would like to find another Foos, though … maybe another ‘project’.”

“I’ve been collecting since the late 1970s, and it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “The thing about this hobby is, if it wasn’t for the friends, it wouldn’t be as much fun. Friends of mine, these guys put in a lot of hours on this deal. We probably had 12 or 13 people over here on the Sunday afternoon we started it up.”

What would he do differently, if he were starting over again?

“I don’t know that I would tackle it, knowing what I do now,” he said. “I wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been for my friends. We had a guy going over literature with a magnifying glass, studying the picture to see how to scale up the parts. Rick Phillips helped identify pieces, and Charlie Kerker got every piece unstuck. There were some I didn’t think we’d ever get unstuck. And Ed Bays was a big help.”

His current project is more modest, though still close to his heart.

“I’m working on a 6 hp Foos Jr.,” he said. “It’s smaller, on a hand cart. Hopefully it won’t take a winch truck to get it aligned.”

Mike, a barber by day, has a fair amount of Foos items in addition to his engines: “I have a Foos Scientific anvil, Foos feed grinders, a Foos well water pump, an oil field pump, and a feed grinder that looks like an old coffee grinder,” he said.

He also collects spark plugs.

“I have 350, all different kinds,” he said. “I get them from other collectors, at shows and flea markets … they turn up everywhere.”

But the most fun, he said, is in the engines.

“I like mechanical stuff,” he said. “The gadgets; all the stuff that moves. It’s just fun, trying to figure out how it all worked.” FC

For more information: Mike Cartwright, 6013 Willow Road, Claremore, OK 74017; (918)266-6868.

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